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Judge Denies Trial Delay

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If things go as planned, a jury should begin deciding the fate of lobbyist Joseph Kupfer and political consultant Armando Gutierrez sometime today.

But then things seldom go as planned during jury trials, and the federal trial of the men is no exception. They are charged with conspiracy to willfully steal some of the $19 million New Mexico got in Help America Vote Act funds starting in 2004 through contracts they received from the Secretary of State’s Office.

By Wednesday afternoon, even jurors were laughing at the number of times lawyers made trips to the bench to confer with the judge, and U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson quipped that it amounted to courtroom “calisthenics.”

Prosecutors rested their case on Tuesday afternoon, and the defense was scheduled to present its side Wednesday morning. But Kupfer’s lead attorney Billy Blackburn had been hospitalized in the early morning hours, and co-counsel Paul Linnenburger asked for an adjournment.

Johnson denied the motion, based in part on reasoning from an unpublished opinion in a Florida federal case where the primary defense attorney became incapacitated three weeks into trial and couldn’t continue. The judge forced that case forward.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara Neda said the government opposed any postponement, noting the case has been pending for four years and Linnenburger has worked on it the entire time.

Blackburn is a court-appointed lawyer for Kupfer in the case, but also Kupfer’s counsel of choice, the judge observed.

Ahmad Assed, Gutierrez’s attorney, handled most of the questioning of Terry Davenport, a defense expert hired to testify about procurement policies. Davenport said he’d written templates for contracts and spoken at classes about procedures under the procurement code.

The Secretary of State’s Office, as one of the smaller state agencies, had no procurement officer on its staff, he testified.

Asked about safeguards that might pick up on any problems, he said the contract was not effective until the Department of Finance and Administration had reviewed it and the Attorney General’s Office had signed off on it.

Meanwhile, in the related case in state district court, the state Supreme Court has appointed District Judge Reed Sheppard as pro tem judge despite his move to children’s court Jan. 1.

Sheppard was the presiding criminal judge before the transfer and is the judge who dismissed charges against former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron based on the length of the trial delays.

Vigil-Giron was in office when the contracts to Kupfer and Gutierrez were awarded. Delays are due in part to having eight different judges assigned to it.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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